So what happened? Why did all the voices fall silent? After a fair amount of digging, I found a story much different than I had originally anticipated. To best understand it all, let's roll the dials of our proverbial time machine back 4 years ... [effect: wavy Wayne's World flashback cross-fade sequence]
The Birth of the Canadian Music Creators Coalition
By 2006 the RIAA had already sued a most Napster-like companies out of existence, but they weren't satisfied with the victories, so next they targeted the homes and college dorm rooms of America. Via John Doe letters, unreliable offender identification techniques, statutory damage claims based on hyperinflated compensatory calculations and bullying techniques that have been compared to litigious terrorism, the RIAA abused the legal system to attempt to make criminals of all who listened to music via the Internet without paying, legitimately or not.
Steven Page, lead singer for the Barenaked Ladies decided that he had had it. He brought together a swath of well-known Canadian artists including Avril Lavigne, Feist, Matthew Good, Randy Bachman, Sarah McLachlan, Sloan, Sum 41 and Wide Mouth Mason to form the Canadian Music Creators Coalition with the three founding principles:
"(1) Suing our fans is destructive and hypocritical, (2) Digital locks are risky and counterproductive, and (3) Cultural policy should support actual Canadian artists."
For our purposes, only point #1 is really relevant. Digital locks on music have proven to be ineffective and have largely fallen out of use, and according to Google Analytics most of our audience is not Canadian (although a surprising proportion is).
The CMCC in their founding document go on to say:
"[M]ajor labels are looking out for their shareholders, not for Canadian artists. Recording industry lobbyists, despite claiming to represent artists, seldom speak for us. Legislative proposals, particularly those that would facilitate lawsuits against our fans or increase the labels’ control over the enjoyment of music, are made not in our names, but on behalf of the shareholders of the labels’ foreign parent companies."
The CMCC, the Crown and the Songwriters Association of Canada
Move forward to 2008: The Canadian government introduced bill C-61, a copyright reform bill that would align Canadian law with the much maligned DMCA, changing the definition and enforcement of 'infringement' and introducing statutory damages would make RIAA-style litigation available to the Canadian recording industry. In short order, the CMCC responded.
Did the CMCC response make a difference? We'll never know. The bill died on the table when parliament was dissolved in September of that year.
At about the same time, the Songwriters Association of Canada (SAC) put forward a proposal to legitimize music downloading by introducing a tariff on Internet connections that would go toward paying artists. The CMCC endorsed the SAC proposal with this statement:
"The CMCC wishes to congratulate and endorse the Songwriters Association of Canada in pushing this proposal forward. We think the Canadian government should be facilitating discussion over the merits of this forward thinking approach to file-sharing rather than introducing legislation that looks backwards to approaches that have already failed."
On careful reading, the endorsement seemed carefully crafted and rather limited. It moved more toward endorsing the introduction of new ideas rather than endorsing some of the proposal's specifics: the Internet tariff in particular.
I considered this to be a good thing. Organizations charged with managing artist's royalties have been notoriously bad at equitably distributing those funds, especially to independent artists.
Barenaked No More
In 2009, learning from the C-61 fiasco, the Canadian government started an extensive public consultation on copyright reform accepting submissions from industry and individuals alike. During the process over 8,100 submissions were received - a truly remarkable number when you consider that most major legislation usually only receives 50 to 100 submissions.
The CMCC also submitted a letter, albeit a boilerplate template of the same letter they published on numerous occasions previously. To find it, I had to search the government database through a third party search engine. Nowhere on their site did they mention the submission. No press release. No call to action. Nothing. As mentioned earlier, their site has been static for over a year with the exception of posting congratulations to their Juno winners.
Two other things also happened in the past year: Steven Page left the Barenaked ladies to pursue a solo career; The Barenaked Ladies signed a distribution contract with EMI, a member of the RIAA and strong proponent of their tactics.
Here's my rampant speculation:
Steven Page seemed to be the voice and driving force behind the CMCC. Did the turbulence around his departure from BNL cause the ball to be dropped with nobody to pick it up? Would BNL have signed with EMI if he were still there?
It is unfortunate that what could have been such a strong voice for change within the industry in Canada has quieted to a whisper. Others have taken up the call, but none with such a public profile.